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Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Personal Library Smashes Estimates

February 11, 2022

Ruth Bader Ginsburg may have been petite, but she was a powerhouse. Ginsburg confronted many obstacles in both her personal and professional life yet worked to overcome them. She passed away in September 2020, and recently many items from her personal library were auctioned off and smashed the auction estimates. The results demonstrated the power of her legacy, how influential she was, and how influential she still is.

Harvard Law Review book from 1957-58 that was owned by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Harvard Law Review

The auction, held by Bonhams, New York, was a huge success, with every item sold. It certainly gave any Ruth Bader Ginsburg fan a chance to snatch a piece of history. The estimates were rather modest, and bidding was fierce. According to the auction house, more online bidders vied for the Supreme Court Justice’s belongings than any other online sale they’ve ever held before.

The white glove sale featured over a thousand books, photographs, and even a few honorary degrees. Many items had annotations from Ginsburg herself, as well as inscriptions from colleagues and other remarkable women. The top lot was her copy of the Harvard Law Review from 1957-58, which she heavily annotated. It was estimated at $2,500-3,500 and sold for an astounding $80K ($100.3K w/p).

photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on sheet music for I'll Fight from the movie RBG

I’ll Fight

Additional highlights from the sale included Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s copy of her book My Own Words. It is a collection of her writings and speeches ranging from elementary school essays to Supreme Court documents. The book sold for $65K ($81.5K w/p) against a $1-2,000 estimate. A copy of Gloria Steinem’s memoir entitled My Life on the Road was also featured, including an inscription: “To Dearest Ruth – who paved the road for us all with a lifetime of gratitude -Gloria”. It had an extremely low estimate of $300-500 and sold for $42K ($52.8K w/p). My Beloved World, written by Sonia Sotomayor, was inscribed to Ginsburg, and sold to $32K ($40.3K w/p); the estimate was, again, just $300-500. But the last item that I think deserves an honorable mention is sheet music for the song “I’ll Fight”, written by Diane Warren for the 2018 movie RBG. Warren inscribed the sheet music with, “Dear Ruth, Thank you for the inspiration and thank you for all you do. Love & songs, Diane.” Both the movie and the song were nominated for Academy Awards in 2019. The sheet music smashed its $100-200 estimate when it sold for $28K ($35.3K w/p).

In the end, the results surprised everyone. Every lot sold above its presale estimate. While Bonhams had hoped to bring in $60K for the entire sale, all expectations were blown away as the overall sale totaled close to $2.4M with the premium added. I would have to say Ruth Bader Ginsburg is still an influential force.